How Can I Become More Flexible for Dancing?
As a pre-cursor to the following wall of text, I’ll be forthright and caution against the continuation of traditional static stretching methods for those of you who are flexible naturally.
While my justification for the stopping or reduction of static stretching can be viewed in the following links, I believe the methods and research below comprise the most up to date and sound methods that I’m aware of at the time for achieving increased flexibility, mobility in stiff joints, and achieving the straddle split while sparing the ligaments of the hip.
Despite this caution, I know that stretching will continue before training sessions, and movement will consist of hamstring stretches, adductor stretches, and various other favorites within both the dancing and weight training community. Keeping this in mind, achieving greater than normal ranges of motion comes at a price, as greater than normal stability will be required to maintain position during movements if excessive stretching is pursued otherwise.
Please enter the url to a YouTube video.
In just the past few weeks I’ve been getting several questions from friends with regard to achieving a split position for increased width during specific breakdancing moves such as the windmill and flare. I’ve been hesitant to respond for several reasons, and one of the main reasons involves the unnecessary promotion of stretching at the hip joint for an already very flexible individual.
Often an athlete or dancer will comment that it helps make them “feel” better or helps them achieve specific positions better. It is possible to identify these successful dancers as they are often hypermobile, display signs of congenital laxity, or are very flexible on a global level, which often contributes to their success on the dance floor and stage.
However, it would be in poor fashion to follow the “stretching” routine of one hypermobile individual’s exercise routine, if your movement quality along with lifestyle choices predisposes you to having very tight… well everything. So why warm-up the same way? Putting all dancers into one “bucket” for a training session is akin to treating any position of every sport within the same bucket, without care for individual nuances.
Individual movement assessments reign supreme. Their body dictates how their body moves, not the sport. Look at the individual first, and then the sport specific movements next.
To that end, here are several posts directed towards hypermobile and flexible individuals, in which I go over the different thought processes and protocols that would perhaps elicit a more productive training effect in place of constantly stretching.
- Stretching Myths and Mistakes
- If You’re a Dancer… You Don’t Need to Stretch
- Thoughts on Hypermobility – Part 1
- Thoughts on Hypermobility – Part 2
What Does the Research Say?
For the research buffs out there, static stretching for elite gymnasts works for increasing flexibility in the front split (6), whole body vibration works in multiple accounts , from both a rehab (9), and an elite performance point of view (8, 10, 11). On the static stretching front, low load, long duration stretching has several pieces of evidence pointing to positive correlation with increased range of motion and flexibility. (3) However, static stretching before performance has been well documented to reduce power output (2). In terms of self-myofascial release, there is (12) and (13), which states an acute increase in range of motion after foam rolling, along with no decrease in power output afterwards. And finally, strength training and its affects on flexibility either exhibit no detrimental affects or show some improvements on range of motion. (7)
However, I’m not here to hash out one specific method, because I’m not running an experiment. I’d utilize a combination of the above to amplify the results I’m aiming for, which is a straddle split to more or less help with the flexibility of other movements found in dance. More specifically, I’m aiming to increase the mobility of the hip joint into external rotation, along with increasing soft tissue pliability and muscle tonicity. There are points to be made about stretching and its implications for injury reduction, or even muscle soreness – but neither of those are imperative to the discussion at hand, which involve increasing flexibility!
What is a Straddle Split?
To develop a baseline for what a split is, I think Van-Damme esque splits, where an upright torso displays external rotation at the hip level in a full 180° split.
However, I’m not merely looking to get into a split, and then walk away, dazzling the crowd with my extreme flexibility. /eyeroll
In reality, I’m looking to increase the flexibility at the hip level for windmills, flares, and other even more bedazzling moves than what JCVD had to offer. When I hear the word flexibility, I automatically think of this video clip from Bboy Toyz from Lionz of Zion crew.
Please enter the url to a YouTube video.
How do you get to that level of flexibility? Let’s get to bid-ness.
Application of Theory + Research
When searching for the minimum effective dose, I’m looking at the efficiency of any one method, along with whether or not it even has a significant impact. Examining the research of any method should show clinical significance, which can illustrate whether or not a method has any validity for improving a certain quality – in this case degrees of range of motion relative to flexibility. However in practice, I don’t simply look at one method and then call it a day. I utilize a combination of all of the above as best I can with regards to achieving a compounding effect.
Breaking Down the Methods to Increasing Flexibility
1. Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)
The purpose of this is to more or less inhibit tight musculature. Reduction in [over]activation of proprioceptors of the muscle spindle and golgi tendon organ (GTO) is what drives me to use foam rolling as a tool. (4) Whether or not current research says it is turning off signals from the brain, or if it is “removing” soft-tissue adhesions is not so much my concern. My concern lies in whether or not it works, and it most certainly has an effect of sorts for relieving tension, acutely at best (in conjunction with other methods).
- SMR for Adductors – 10 reps or 30 sec/side
Ideally I would have the athlete use self-myofascial release on the whole body to achieve a more systemic effect before proceeding to the warm-up. For those who are adverse to trying new methods, perform SMR on the adductors, and then make a judgment call on whether or not your leg feels “looser” or not. More often than not, it will feel less restricted – especially if you’ve never performed this type of release before.
Anecdotally speaking I’ve come across and have seen my fair share of very “tight” individuals, who have constant feelings of hamstring, calf, and high adductor tightness. In these individuals, addressing soft tissue quality through several methodologies involving self-myofascial release, mobility drills, and in some cases manual therapy, will go long ways to help relieve the feeling of tightness.
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Further, I’ve seen previous sedentary individuals achieve an increase in mobility and better soft tissue quality simply through following a foam rollingand warm-up protocol. The explanation for this is that soft tissue that was once dense and chronically tight, is now pliable and more receptive to mobility drills and movement.
2. Dynamic Warm-Up
Movement prep, RAMP, dynamic warm up, it’s all just “good movement”. Semantics aside, the idea behind the warm-up is to activate and move through specific ranges of motions within various movement patterns to increase both ranges of motion and stabilize those new patterns. Further, an increase in blood flow can be observed as the body’s temperature increases globally, further restoring nutritious blood to previous “cold” and “tight” musculature that may have lacked blood flow (if used directly after self-myofascial release).
In this case, the exercise selection in the video aims to mobilize the hip joint while simultaneously utilizing the hip stabilizers when cued correctly, along with reinforcing gluteal/hip control within the last two exercises.
3. Low Load, Long Duration Stretching in Specific Position
Research indicates that stretching for a prolonged duration of time (read: greater than 30 seconds in one bout) in one specific position will facilitate length in a previously “short” muscle. (3). By definition, shortness or tightness are used interchangeably to denote a slight to moderate decrease in muscle length movement in the direction of elongating the muscle is limited. (Kendall et al; 1) In one study performed almost 30 years ago, low load, long duration stretching was found to elicit greater ranges of motion by utilizing an hour’s worth of stretching! (3)
4. Additional Methods
If possible, use a Vibraflex or whole body vibration machines set at a low setting have been shown to increase range of motion. “Collectively, these may account for an increase in overall blood flow and local muscle temperature. Increased temperature of muscle has been linked to increased muscle extensibility.” (8) But since I know this specific dancer in person, and I know that using a Vibraflex is out of the question for him due to accessibility, so this would likely be less likely for active gym goers as well for that same reason.
Further, I’ve looked to strength training to solidify any new ranges of motion gained after a successful flexibility training session has been completed. It is also likely that strength training induces new ranges of motion for new exercise participants due to the new ranges of motion that is necessary for completion of the exercise.
What are the individual differences that can affect how fast or slow I can become “flexible”?
The timeline to achieving a position for this split is unique to the individual, from a movement perspective (how a person moves during dance), the structure of their hip bones (two combinations to acquire a split could require hip external rotation to such a degree, that the individual can display anteversion of the femurs, along with possible dysplasia or even slight gapping of the pubic symphysis), and a combination of the above, which will result in how that dancer adapts to the stress at hand (poorer soft tissue quality will catch more “snags” if traditional stretching is pursued, vs less restricted soft tissue quality along with following the methods described below).
Benefits of Increased Flexibility
Research has shown several benefits to stretching, from knee pain reduction, to a reduction of muscle soreness, along with helping to gain more range of motion in some pretty fancy moves seen in powermoves along with footwork. My good friend Tony Ingram discusses what the research says even more in-depth HERE on his website BboyScience.com.
Like many things, there is a time and
place for every tool and methodology.
With this in mind, I advise my flexible athletes to stretch with caution, and err for a less is more mindset. There are other available methods to gaining range of motion, so let’s pursue those instead of challenging the ligamentous stability of our hips. Further, there may be validity in increasing your flexibility, but at the same time exercise selection should be chosen to include stability demands as well, as movement in breakdancing is very dynamic and stability is required right alongside with mobility and flexibility. Pursue stretching in excess, and it may become a recipe for an injury, so be forewarned before you pursue this specific party trick. But if you’re going to party, at least now you know what it will take to get there.
Keep it funky.
1 – Review of Length-Associated Changes in Muscle Experimental Evidence and Clinical Implications MARILYN R. GOSSMAN, SHIRLEY A. SAHRMANN, and STEVEN J. ROSE. PHYS THER. 1982; 62:1799-1808.
2 – Marek, Sarah M. “Acute Effects of Static and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power Output.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2013.
3 – Light, Kathye E., Sharon Nuzik, Walter Personius, and Aubyn Barstrom. “Low-Load Prolonged Stretch vs. High-Load Brief Stretch in Treating Knee Contractures.”National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6366834>.
4 – Fama, Brian J. and Bueti, David R., “The Acute Effect Of Self-Myofascial Release On Lower Extremity Plyometric Performance”
(2011). Theses and Dissertations.Paper 2.
5 – Kendall, Florence Peterson, and Florence Peterson Kendall. Muscles: Testing and Function with Posture and Pain. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2005. Print.
6 – Sands, William A., and Jeni R. McNeal. “ENHANCING FLEXIBILITY IN GYMNASTICS.” Technique 20.5 (2000): n. pag. USA Gymnastics Online. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <http://dev.usagym.org/pages/home/publications/technique/2000/5/flexibility.pdf>.
7 – Fatouros, I.G., K. Taxildaris, and S.P. Tokmakidis. “The Effects of Strength Training, Cardiovascular Training and Their Combination on Flexibility of Inactive Older Adults.” International Journal of Sports Medicine 23 (2002): 112-19. 31 May 2001. Web. 17 Sept. 2013. <http://www.educadorfisicoadinis.com.br/download/artigos/exercicio%20e%20envelhecimento.pdf>.
8 – Sands, William, Jeni R. McNeal, Michael H. Stone, Elizabeth Russell, and Monem Jemni. “National Center for Biotechnology Information.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 38.4 (2006): 720-25. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 17 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16679989>.
9 – Van Den Tillaar, Roland. “Will Whole-Body Vibration Training Help Increase the Range of Motion of the Hamstrings?” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 20.1 (2006): 192. Print.
10 – Sands, William, Jeni McNeal, Michael Stone, G. Gregory Haff, and Ann M. Kinser. “Effect of Vibration on Forward Split Flexibility and Pain Perception in Young Male Gymnasts.” International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 3 (2008): 469-81. Human Kinetics. Web. <http://www.powerplate.com/resources/doc/research/published-studies/balance-mobility/en/effect-of-vibration-on-forward-split-flexibility-and-pain-perception-in-young-male-gymnasts.pdf>.
11 – Sanborn, C.f. “Acute Whole Body Vibration Training Increases Vertical Jump and Flexibility Performance in Elite Female Field Hockey Players.” Yearbook of Sports Medicine 2006 (2006): 141-42. Print.
12 – Graham, MacDonald Z., Penney D.H. Michael, Michelle E. Mullaley, and Amanda L. Cuconato. “The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range Of… :. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2013. <http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2013/03000/An_Acute_Bout_of_Self_Myofascial_Release_Increases.34.aspx>.
13 – Healey, K., L. Dorfman, D. Riebe, P. Blanpied, and D. Hatfield. “The Effects of Foam Rolling on Myofascial Release and Perfor… :.” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 25.1 (2011): n. pag. The Effects of Foam Rolling on Myofascial Release and Perfor… :. Web. 17 Sept. 2013. <http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2011/03001/The_Effects_of_Foam_Rolling_on_Myofascial_Release.45.aspx>.